CHARLOTTE, N.C. – An Ohio teenager died over the weekend after contracting a rare brain-eating amoeba after visiting an outdoor recreation facility.
The 18-year-old girl was on a church trip in Charlotte, North Carolina when the group stopped at the U.S. Whitewater Center and went whitewater rafting, WCMH reports.
While it is unclear if this is the exact location the girl contracted the disease, Jim Wilson, a pastor at the teen’s church, says it was the only place the group went where there was water.
The U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, said it met with health officials from Mecklenburg County Tuesday afternoon to discuss this case.
Wilson says the teen was part of his church’s youth music ministry.
She was part of a group of students who were traveling to West Virginia and North Carolina to sing at churches and nursing homes.
While infections from Naegleria fowleri are rare, they’re usually fatal. Here’s what to know about the brain-eating parasite:
What is it?
Naegleria fowleri is a single-celled organism that can cause a brain infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
It’s typically found in warm fresh water such as lakes, rivers and hot springs.
“These disease-causing organisms are naturally present in most lakes, ponds, and rivers but multiply rapidly in very warm and stagnant water,” the Oklahoma State Department of Health said.
How do you get it?
People can get infected by swimming or diving into infected, warm bodies of water, the CDC said. The amoeba enters the nose and travels to the brain.
In extremely rare cases, swimmers can get infected from pools that are not adequately chlorinated.
But it’s impossible to get infected by drinking water contaminated with the amoeba. And infections are not contagious.
How often does it strike?
Texas and Florida lead in reported cases of primary amebic meningoencephalitis during that time frame. California, Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia are the next highest, with between five and nine cases each, according to the CDC.
How often is it fatal?
Very often. Of those 138 cases, only three people survived.
Who else has gotten infected recently?
In 2013, 12-year-old Zachary Reyna of Florida became infected after he went knee-boarding in fresh water near his home. He later died.
That same summer, Kali Hardig of Arkansas went for a swim and was infected by the parasite.
Despite the incredible odds against her, Kali survived.
How can you prevent it?
The extreme rarity and randomness of such infections can make it difficult to predict where they might occur.
“It is unknown why certain persons become infected with (Naegleria fowleri) while millions of others exposed to warm recreational fresh waters do not, including those who were swimming with people who became infected,” the CDC said.
The Kansas health department advises swimmers to use nose plugs when swimming in fresh water.
It also suggests not stirring up the sediment at the bottom of shallow freshwater areas and keeping your head above the water in hot springs.
The Oklahoma health department also said people shouldn’t swim in stagnant water, water that is cloudy and green, or water that has a foul odor.
It also said signs that say “no swimming” should be taken seriously.